Why is media literacy important?

Media literacy should be an integral part of every writing curriculum, regardless of the grade level. Media literacy skills help students to develop vocabulary and teach higher-order thinking skills and critical reasoning. When media literacy is introduced to students at a young age, they are more likely to become critical thinkers and apply these skills in other classes and the world around them.

Media literacy extends beyond reacting or criticizing media. Students must learn how to analyze and evaluate content, accuracy and purpose of media messages designed to inform, entertain or persuade them.

Here are 5 things to consider when teaching media literacy to your students.

  1. Media messages are constructions.

Teach your students about the explicit and implicit elements of the news stories that they read. Explicit messages will be obvious. But, implicit messages tend to appeal to emotions or insecurities.

AAn excellent way to teach this is to show students a series of television commercials and analyze the explicit versus implicit messages. For example, a commercial selling protein shakes might explain the healthful benefits of their product. The implicit message might be that if you buy this product, you will be fit and healthy. It doesn’t take into account that you still need to exercise and eat a well-balanced diet to maintain your health.

  1. Recognizing bias in the news

Students should understand that just because something is printed in a newspaper or online does not mean it’s entirely accurate. A good way to show this is to present the same news story from three different sources.

Have your students compare and contrast the stories. Help them to recognize facts vs opinions in the stories. Ask which story seemed to be the most credible and why. Getting your students to think critically about the things they read online will help them to understand how to find credible sources for their own writing.

As students begin to read the news more often, they should be able to recognize fake news or news sources that aren’t reliable. Show students how to check the date and author’s credentials and as identify tone and bias within news articles.

  1. Different people respond to the same message differently.

Discuss how a person’s background or life experiences might cause them to interpret the news differently and gain different insights into the same story.  One way to help your students think critically about this is to find political stories with different viewpoints. Discuss why people might disagree or have differing opinions based on their backgrounds or personal experiences.

  1. Questioning numbers and figures

Say you come across an article that claims, “Students perform better in school when they get at least eight hours of sleep” and share it on Facebook, but when you take a closer look at the cited study, you find that it was only performed at one school, in one class, on six students. Students must learn to judge the math behind the message.

The more students are able to question the news and think more critically about it, the more they will recognize the difference between credible sources and those that do not back up their information with verifiable facts.

  1. Teach students how to effectively filter, select, organize, save, and use information gathered from media sources. This could be presented as research projects where students share their findings with the class.

There is so much information on the internet that it can be challenging to know what to believe. As your students learn to think more critically about the news and notice bias, they will become more efficient at filtering what they see and hear.  

When it comes time for your students to write about the news, they will better understand how to present their topics in a clear and unbiased way. Media literacy is an integral part of every writing curriculum.